The one question you must ask before developing a smart applianceIf you work in product management or  product design/development for an appliance manufacturer, you have probably been keeping an eye on what’s happening with smart appliances. Your interest may have been ratcheted up with the news coming out of CES 2014 that the “connected home” is finally here. You may already be hurrying to market with smart appliances so your company doesn’t get left behind now that the connected home/smart appliance market is starting to take off.

Please proceed with caution.  What you don’t want to do is throw smart technology on to a new product unless the smart technology delivers a meaningful consumer benefit.

Just because you can connect something to the Internet doesn’t mean you should, or that it will make the average person’s life any better.”  Andrew Couts, Staff Writer for Digital Trends product review web site

To be a marketplace success, a smart appliance must deliver a benefit the consumer can’t get from a “dumb” appliance.  That consumer benefit must be so important and compelling that the consumer is willing to pay more for the smart appliance.  The only way to find that if consumers think an appliance with smart technology delivers a meaningful benefit is to ask them.

When I read about some of the new smart appliances that have hit the market recently or are about to hit the market, my reaction to several of them was “you’ve got to be kidding!” I seriously doubted that consumers were going to be willing to pay a steep premium for some of these new smart appliances.

I decided to conduct a product concept test to find out what consumers thought of some of these new smart appliances. I tested four new smart appliances: 1) the iKettle, 2) the GE Wall Oven with Brillion™ technology, 3) the Crock-Pot WeMo Smart Slow Cooker, and 4) the LG Smart ThinQ™ Super-Capacity 3 Door French Door Refrigerator with 8″ Wi-Fi LCD Screen.

I conducted the study with my HomeTrend Influentials Panel (HIP) because HomeTrend Influentials (HIPsters) are the bellwether for the mainstream population. If HIPsters embrace a new product, very likely it will be embraced by mainstream Americans, too. If HIPsters reject a new product, very likely the product will be rejected by mainstream Americans.

I used the standard battery of rating scale questions that I use for all product concept tests. Interest was determined by looking at how how well each product rated on four dimensions of new product success: need, likeability, buzz worthiness, and purchase interest.

Here are the findings from this product concept test along with my predictions on how each product will do in the marketplace.

iKettleIKETTLE

The iKettle is an electric tea kettle that comes with Wi-Fi and its own dedicated smartphone app. The smartphone app allows the user to instantly control the kettle from anywhere. It also features a Wake mode that’s a wakeup call that prompts you if you’d like to turn on the kettle as soon as you get up so that it’s ready in the kitchen when you want it.

iKettle product concept test resultsPurchase Interest and Need: To be successful, a new product must meet a need or solve a problem better than what the consumer is using now. If the consumer does not think the product is going to solve a problem or meet a need, they are not going to be interested in purchasing it. This is certainly the case with the iKettle. Only 8% of respondents thought that the iKettle would meet a need or solve a problem for them; only 9% would be interested in buying the iKettle.

When they were asked what their initial reaction to the product was, a number of respondents specifically said they did not need the iKettle because they already had an appliance that worked perfectly well for heating water.

“I don’t think this would meet a need for me. My current coffee maker has a timer and it is perfect.”
“Unnecessary. Coffee pots have been programmable for years, and they have the COFFEE ready for you, not just hot water.”
“I don’t think the iKettle would meet a need for me. My current coffee maker has a timer and it is perfect.”

Buzz Worthiness: The iKettle scored poorly on buzz worthiness with only 19% of respondents saying they would recommend the iKettle to their friends and family.

Because of the ever increasing importance of product reviews and social media-driven word-of-mouth, buzz worthiness (how likely the respondent would be to recommend the product to friends and family) is becoming an important measure of new product success. The iKettle’s low score on buzz worthiness indicates that the product will probably not generate much positive buzz and may, in fact, be the subject of negative product reviews.

Likeability: Only 14% of respondents said that they liked or loved the iKettle. If a product scores poorly on likeability, chances are the product will also score poorly on purchase interest. Consumers have to like the product in order to have any interest in buying it. The vast majority of respondents did not like the iKettle.

The “smart” technology: A number of respondents noted that they were not interested in being able to control their tea kettle using an app on their smartphone.

Wait. An instant heat kettle takes two minutes. And I have to now set an alarm and boil it from the bedroom? Sounds like an extra device where the original one worked just fine.”
“I cannot justify spending $200 just so I don’t have to walk into another room to start a pot of water. Just silly.”
“Kind of cool, but I’m not sure it would be exciting to own. I use an electric/cordless kettle that heats in less than a minute. I can’t see the real benefit [of the iKettle] other than the alarm.”
“I don’t think I need to control a kettle from a smart phone. This is not something I would use regularly.”

Summary: The iKettle received extremely low ratings on the two most important measures of need and purchase interest. Ratings on likeability and buzz worthiness were higher but still on the low side of acceptable. More importantly, the iKettle does not deliver a benefit that consumers don’t think they can get from a dumb appliance.

My prediction: The product will most likely be a dismal failure in the US marketplace, especially at a hefty price tag of $199 in a category where the average cost of a tea kettle is less than $50.

GE Wall Oven with Brillion™ technologyGE WALL OVEN WITH BRILLION™ TECHNOLOGY

The GE Brillion™ technology allows owners to interact with their appliances using their smart phone. Owners of Brillion-enabled wall ovens can use the GE Brillion app on their smart phone to preheat the oven, change oven temperatures, set cooking modes and timers, and even set meat probe settings. Users can also access oven settings such as temperature offsets, auto shut-off, clock, and Sabbath mode.

GE Wall Cven wiith Brillion Technology product concept test resultsPurchase Interest: 24% of respondents said they would be somewhat or very interested in buying the GE Wall Oven with Brillion™ technology.

“This [wall oven] does not seem to help me in anyway with making tasks easier or save me money.” 

Need: 26% of respondents thought that the GE Wall Oven with Brillion™ technology would meet a need or solve a problem for them.

Buzz Worthiness: 28% of respondents said they would be somewhat or very likely to recommend the GE Wall Oven with Brillion™ technology to their friends and family.

Likeability: The GE Wall Oven with Brillion™ technology scored fairly well on likeability with 34% of respondents saying that they liked or loved the wall oven. However, likeability did not translate to purchase interest. Purchase interest was a full ten points lower than likeability.

The “smart” technology: As was the case with the iKettle, respondents did not feel that the ability to interact with the GE Wall Oven using their smart phone was important to them. In fact, a number of respondents were rather derisive of the feature.

“I can’t understand why I would want to control my oven from my phone….I wouldn’t be cooking if I wasn’t near the stove, and it just seems superfluous. Not gonna turn on my oven from somewhere else!”
“This is a good example of creeping complexity. I don’t use my oven, unless I am home. This, I can set it manually and don’t need a smartphone to do it. I also don’t keep my phone with me every second, so all this reliance on phones drives me crazy.”
“I don’t see this product as necessary. Pulling up an app on my phone to turn on my oven is not easier than just turning on the appliance.”
“It looks nice and I’m sure it cooks well, but my oven is not something I need or want to control with my phone. I do not want it running when I’m not home anyway.”

Summary: The GE Wall Oven with Brillion™ technology received lukewarm ratings on the all four of the measures. What’s more, a significant portion of respondents were not the slightest bit interested in being able to control their oven from their smart phone.

My Prediction: GE will have limited success with the Wall Oven with Brillion™ technology.

CrockPot WeMo Smart Slow CookerCROCK-POT WEMO SMART SLOW COOKER

The WeMo technology in the Crock-Pot WeMo Smart Slow Cooker allows the user to control and monitor cooking times and temperatures via a smart phone. 

Crock-Pot WeMo Smart Slow Cooker product concept test results

Purchase Interest: 25% of respondents said they would be somewhat or very interested in buying the Belkin Crock-Pot WeMo Smart Slow Cooker.

“I don’t see the use in [Crock-Pot WeMo Smart Slow Cooker].  If it doesn’t pull the food out of the fridge, dice it for you and start the meal… it doesn’t really do much more than what my regular one does.”

Need: Only 19% of respondents thought that the Belkin Crock-Pot WeMo Smart Slow Cooker would meet a need or solve a problem for them.

Buzz Worthiness: 37% of respondents said they would somewhat or very likely to recommend the Belkin Crock-Pot WeMo Smart Slow Cooker to their friends and family. The slow cooker scored higher on buzz worthiness than it did on likeability, need, or purchase interest. This indicates that there is a “coolness” factor to the product that might make some people want to tell their friends and family about it. But the higher buzz worthiness did not translate to purchase interest. People might talk about the product but they would not buy it for themselves.

Likeability: 27% of respondents said that they liked or loved the Belkin Crock-Pot WeMo Smart Slow Cooker.

The “smart” technology: Respondents did not feel that the ability to interact with the Crock-Pot Smart Slow Cooker using their smart phone was important to them.

“It’s a nice looking, decently priced slow cooker. However, I don’t see a need to remotely control the temperature on my slow cooker.”
“Why would one purchase this when there is automatic setting on the slow cooker already? It’s a waste of money.”
“A waste of money. Isn’t the whole idea of a crock pot to set and forget?
“I’m not really sure how having a smart crock-pot would be useful enough for the added price. You can’t leave food in a crock-pot for a long time before starting it, and you can’t tell if the food is done from a smart phone, so I’m really not sure how it would be useful. The only thing I can see that it would be useful for is if you are going to be enough late that you want to turn it off, but not so late that the food will go bad.
“I have no need to control my crockpot from my smartphone, so this is unnecessary.”

Summary: The Crock-Pot WeMo Smart Slow Cooker received lukewarm ratings on three of the four the measures. What’s more, a significant portion of respondents were not the slightest bit interested in being able to control their slow cooker from their smart phone.

My Prediction: Jarden/Belkin will have limited success with the Crock-Pot WeMo Smart Slow Cooker.

LG Smart ThinQ™ Super-Capacity 3 Door French Door Refrigerator With LCD ScreenLG SMART THINQ™ SUPER-CAPACITY 3 DOOR FRENCH DOOR REFRIGERATOR WITH 8″ WI-FI LCD SCREEN

This LG refrigerator includes an 8-inch Wi-Fi LCD touch screen that serves as both a control panel for the refrigerator as well as an information hub and family organization center. The apps includes a food manager app for refrigerator inventory, recipe, grocery, memo, calendar, and photo album apps, an REF Manager for monitoring temperature and other settings, LG’s Smart Saving App, and a software settings control. Most of the apps interact with the corresponding smartphone app. The refrigerator inventory app makes it possible to transmit shopping lists based on actual fridge inventory to a smart phone.

LG Smart ThinQ™ Refrigerator  with touchscreen product concept test resultsPurchase Interest: 39% of respondents would be somewhat or very interested in buying the LG Smart ThinQ™ Refrigerator with touchscreen.

Need: 35% of respondents said that the LG Smart ThinQ™ Refrigerator would solve a problem or meet a need for them.

Buzz Worthiness: The LG Smart ThinQ™ Refrigerator scored high on buzz worthiness with an impressive 51% of respondents saying that they would be somewhat or very likely to tell their friends and family about the product.

Likeability: The LG Smart ThinQ™ Refrigerator scored very well on likeability with 54% of respondents saying that they liked or loved the refrigerator.

The “smart” technology: A number of respondents specifically noted that they did not see a need for the touchscreen feature.

“Beautiful refrigerator, lots of room, good lighting but too expensive. Don’t see the need to have a tablet on the door.”
“It’s a nice looking refrigerator. It also seems a bit unnecessary, why would you need a tablet on your fridge?”
“I will never need a refrigerator like this and will absolutely detest the day all fridges are smart fridges. The tablet is just something extra to break and some reviews already complain about it. What kind of person sits there and manually enters what groceries they buy instead of just loading them into the fridge and opening the door to see what is available?”
“I love the look & design of this! I just don’t like (nor do I need) my fridge to tell me when my milk is old or if I need to buy more butter.”

A number of respondents said that they liked the refrigerator but they had reservations about the touchscreen.

“I like the features of the refrigerator…not sure about all the programming that probably needs to be done to tell me if my food is expiring…”
“Love the layout, capacity, and energy conservation, but don’t need the screen on front.”
“I like the look of it but I do not like things on the front of my fridge.”
“It looks nice, but I don’t know what an LCD screen can show me that the current/older models can’t show me.”

Several respondents liked the idea of the food manager app for refrigerator inventory but were skeptical about how user-friendly the app would be.

“Looks innovative based on the description. However, I wonder how much additional work is required to update the contents of the refrigerator and usage of products.”
“It sounds interesting but no explanation of how it keeps tracked of expiration dates and what is in your refrigerator. If I have to manually enter all of that every time I put stuff in it, that is way too time consuming. I need more info.”
“This seems very cool! But how does it detect what’s in the fridge and when it’s going to expire?”
“I like the features of the refrigerator…not sure about all the programming that probably needs to be done to tell me if my food is expiring…”

Summary: The LG Smart ThinQ™ Super-Capacity 3 Door French Door Refrigerator With 8″ Wi-Fi LCD Screen received fairly good ratings on need and purchase interest and very good ratings on likeability and buzz worthiness. A significant portion of respondents felt that they did not need or want a touchscreen on their refrigerator. Other respondents were concerned that the apps, especially the food manager app for refrigerator inventory and the grocery app, would be too hard to learn to use, difficult to use, or would require manual input of data..

My Prediction: The LG Smart ThinQ™ Super-Capacity 3 Door French Door Refrigerator With 8″ Wi-Fi LCD Screen will get a fair amount of buzz. But the company will sell far more non-touchscreen versions of the refrigerator than they will the version with the touch screen.

To be a marketplace success, a smart appliance must deliver a benefit that the consumer thinks is important that they can’t get from a dumb appliance. And the benefit must be important enough that the consumer is willing to pay a premium for the smart appliance. All of the smart appliances that were tested, even the LG refrigerator, missed the mark. My guess is that the companies got so caught in the coolness of the technology and so excited about being pioneers in the burgeoning smart appliance market that they forgot to ask themselves if the smart technology they were adding to their appliances would make the average person’s life any better.

Will this technology make the average person’s life better? That is the question every appliance manufacturer must answer whenever they are considering adding smart technology to a new product. Remember, just because it can be connected to the Internet doesn’t mean it should.

Free Guide to the Connected Home

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